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Friday, 30 November 2012

Thank You. Be Humankind. Feed The World

Thanks to everyone who clicked on the ads and bought things from Amazon. Together you have raised a nice little donation to Oxfam:





Keep up the good work.

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Be Humankind. Feed The World.



Graveyard Of The Gods

Just imagine if you went to your doctor with a problem and he consulted a 2000 year old book to find out what the problem was and what treatment to give you. Would that be the professional thing for a doctor to do?

Imagine if you went to a lawyer with a legal question and he consulted the laws of Rome or the laws of the Goths from 2000 years or more ago to see what your legal rights are. Would that be what you would expect a professional lawyer to do?

Imagine someone standing for election as your representative in government and she was advocating a return to the tribal laws of, say, fifth century BCE China or Zimbabwe, or at least making them the basis of your legal system. Would she earn your vote and be taken seriously as a professional legislator?

Imagine if you went to university to study history and were taught nothing of the last 2000 years, concentrating only on what was thought of as history in the Mediterranean area at the time of Julius Caesar – nothing of China, South-east Asia, Africa south of the Sahara, India or the New World. Would you think you were receiving a worthwhile education from professional historians?

Imagine you wanted to study geography but the only books available only had very inaccurate maps of the Mediterranean area, the Middle-east and Northern Europe and showed earth to be flat. Do you think learning that would make you a professional geographer?

And imagine you wanted to study science but the only science books were 2000 years old, had nothing of atoms, chemistry, the laws of motion, energy, the germ theory of illness, cells and cell biology, genetics or electricity and said that earth was at the centre of the universe, the sun and moon were lamps hanging from a dome over it and that rain came through holes in the dome. Do you think that would be enough for you to earn your living as a professional scientist?

Of course, no one in their right minds would think 2000 year old information and thinking were adequate for today’s purposes. No one would believe that nothing of value had been learned or discovered about the world; that society had not changed or progressed in that time.

And yet every religious person takes it for granted that their old book contains all the information that they will need and that will ever be needed to understand their faith and to derive their idea of morals from it. Professional religious apologists and moral philosophers have no worries about consulting 2000 year old texts, and the opinions of people writing then from their consultation of even older texts. You only need ask yourself why all the ‘great’ books of all religions were written in the early days of that religion and have never been revised, and may never be revised, but instead are regarded dogmatically as definitive gospels.

Contrast that to science, history, law, geography, technology and sociology, where books go out of date almost as soon as they are printed, where whole libraries are devoted to books detailing the latest discoveries, ideas and developments and a major problem for professionals is keeping up to date.

"The class did not delve deeply into the ancient documents. We recited the roster of early historians and read some of the church fathers, and then promptly forgot them all. I figured that Christian scholars had already done the homework and that our faith rested on a firm historical foundation, and that if I ever needed to look it up I could turn to some book somewhere for the facts. I just never needed to look it up."

Dan Barker
Not so for theologians, where academic activity is confined to learning the opinions of earlier theologians and finding novel ways to interpret the old texts and present the same old arguments in slightly different formats whilst ensuring that the old ideas are defended by whatever means are available. In many cases, as with the assumed ‘historicity’ of Jesus, as Dan Barker pointed out from his experience at Bible college, you learn the list of sources but no one ever really checks them because it’s just assumed someone else has done that and there is a book somewhere with the details in, should you ever need it, which of course you don’t because everyone else is assuming the same thing and not actually questioning any of the assumptions. You become an expert theologian by learning the opinions of earlier theologians, who became expert theologians by learning those of earlier theologians....

All religions based on sacred texts are, in reality, bibliolatries, worshipping not gods but books and the authors of those books. This makes it impossible for religions, and for the ‘morals’ they purport to provide, to keep pace with change in human cultures. We now have a vastly different society, politically, economically and technologically to that of 2000 years ago, and yet the religious underpinnings of our laws have remained virtually unchanged from those of low-tech, town-based autocracies and tribal subsistence farming which themselves were virtually unchanged from those of nomadic pastoralists to whom wheels and iron represented high-tech and magic was assumed to make things work.

Religions are able to survive, at least for a short while over the historical time-scale, without any adaptation or change because religions are actually irrelevant to normal, everyday human endeavour. However, in areas of social life where they do influence things, such as law, and legal constraints on such things such as scientific and technological progress in human biology, medicine and human rights, religions act as a drag, making these things increasingly inadequate and unfit for purpose, until, of course, the religion holding society back becomes a complete irrelevance and, together with its gods, it is consigned to the dustbin of history along with all the other redundant superstitions and long-dead gods.

This is the stage Christianity has now reached in much of the developed world, especially Europe, where a superstition which inflicted misery on millions and tried to restrict the rights of women and the 'lower classes' and interfere in all aspects of our private and public lives is being cast aside and people are reclaiming their basic human rights back and building egalitarian societies more suited to the twenty-first century rather than the first.

How idiotic than that in some areas of the world, even in those who regard themselves as democracies, many people still almost insist that those they elect should at least pay lip-service to religions – the very things causing so many of today’s problems and preventing their solution. In some unfortunate areas, theologians actually demand, and get, the right to be consulted in all matters political, legal and scientific, and even the right to rule over the people and to control all aspects of their lives.

These tend to be primitive, backward societies with a very poorly educated population, showing how religiosity, ignorance and poverty form a mutually beneficial supporting triangle, with religion keeping the people poor and ignorant, and the ignorant poor turning to religion for the only hope for a better future.

The day surely can't be far off when people finally cut the shackles and free themselves from the dead weight of religious superstition. Yet another imaginary god is heading inexorably towards that great dumping ground of accumulated detritus - myth and legend, the graveyard of dead gods.




Thursday, 29 November 2012

Spot The Loonies

Here's a good game.

According to Christians, Christians are good people who love others, never judge because they believe that's their god's prerogative, and always try to forgive. Because their god is watching over them, they can be relied upon to always be honest and truthful, and never to try to mislead with misinformation because bearing false witness is a sin and their god sees everything and never forgets. People, being the creation of their perfect god are all of equal worth, obviously.

Atheists, on the other hand, are evil people who have no way of telling right from wrong and so can't be trusted to be honest. Because they don't believe a god created everything, they have no respect for it and give nothing any value beyond its utility value.

So, if Christians are right, it should be easy to guess who said the following.

Give it a try, then hover over the word 'Show' to see who said it.

(If you don't agree with Christians, you may find this easier.)

AIDS is the wrath of a just God against homosexuals. To oppose it would be like an Israelite jumping in the Red Sea to save one of Pharaoh's charioteers. AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals. It is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.

Show
Human decency is not derived from religion. It precedes it.

Show
Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves. Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children? The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.

Show
There is no such thing as separation of church and state in the Constitution. It is a lie of the Left and we are not going to take it anymore.

Show
[T]he Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.

Show
We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.

Show
Reason is the Devil's greatest whore; by nature and manner of being she is a noxious whore; she is a prostitute, the Devil's appointed whore; whore eaten by scab and leprosy who ought to be trodden under foot and destroyed, she and her wisdom ... Throw dung in her face to make her ugly. She is and she ought to be drowned in baptism... She would deserve, the wretch, to be banished to the filthiest place in the house, to the closets.

Show
What has 'theology' ever said that is of the smallest use to anybody? When has 'theology' ever said anything that is demonstrably true and is not obvious? What makes you think that 'theology' is a subject at all?

Show
We take nothing from the womb but pure filth. The seething spring of sin is so deep and abundant that vices are always bubbling up form it to bespatter and stain what is otherwise pure.... We should remember that we are not guilty of one offense only but are buried in innumerable impurities.... all human works, if judged according to their own worth, are nothing but filth and defilement.... they are always spattered and befouled with many stains.... it is certain that there is no one who is not covered with infinite filth.

Show
Just like what Nazi Germany did to the Jews, so liberal America is now doing to the evangelical Christians! It's no different! It is the same thing! It is happening all over again! It is the Democratic Congress, the liberal-based media and the homosexuals who want to destroy the Christians! Wholesale abuse and discrimination and the worst bigotry directed toward any group in America today! More terrible than anything suffered by any minority in history! ... And it is happening here and now! Same thing, but directed against Christians by the liberal government and media! Send money today or these liberals will be putting Christians like you and me in concentration camps!

Show
This is indeed a clash of civilisations, not between Islam and Christendom but between reason and superstition.

Show
The true Negro does not want integration... He realizes his potential is far better among his own race... It will destroy our race eventually... In one northern city, a pastor friend of mine tells me that a couple of opposite race live next door to his church as man and wife... It boils down to whether we are going to take God's Word as final.

Show
I would advise no one to send his child where the Holy Scriptures are not supreme. Every institution that does not unceasingly pursue the study of God's word becomes corrupt. Because of this we can see what kind of people they become in the universities and what they are like now. Nobody is to blame for this except the pope, the bishops, and the prelates, who are all charged with training young people. The universities only ought to turn out men who are experts in the Holy Scriptures, men who can become bishops and priests, and stand in the front line against heretics, the devil, and all the world. But where do you find that? I greatly fear that the universities, unless they teach the Holy Scriptures diligently and impress them on the young students, are wide gates to hell.

Show
I'm sure there are all sorts of higher powers like electromagnetism and gravity, and things like that. But I don't believe in a deity, no. I see no evidence for that in my life or anywhere else in the universe. Personally, people can believe what they will and they will believe what they want. I find that most deism, and certainly most theisms take a fairly narrow view of the universe, and most people’s views of God or gods seem to be rather impoverished. The universe itself, the physical world that we can perceive with our senses and grasp with our minds, seems to be far more wondrous then most people's conceptions of a deity.

Show
It is clear that God is saying, 'I gave man dominion over the earth, but he lost it. Now I desire mature sons and daughters who will in My name exercise dominion over the earth and subdue Satan, the unruly, the rebellious. Take back My world from those who would loot it and abuse it. Rule as I would rule.

Show
Christians, like slaves and soldiers, ask no questions.

Show
You can look at any painting ever done of Jesus over the centuries, and you can spot immediately that he's not English, 'cos he's very often shown wearing sandals, but never with socks. I think that would be an English Messiah's look, wouldn't it? - socks, sandals, khaki shorts skimming the knee, little Fair Isle slipover - in case it turns, 'cos it's deceptive, the desert - and I think, instead of all that camp and rather beautiful 'Oh Lord, why hast thou forsaken me?' business - instead of all that - I think he'd be up there trying to make the best of it - 'cos moping doesn't help, does it? I think he'd be up there going, 'Cor, here's a pretty pickle. No, I didn't do it either, but you don't like to say, do you?'

Show
How many do you suppose of those hundred [sic] and thirty soldiers died [sic] in the Pentagon last Tuesday were fags and dykes? And how many do you suppose were working in that massively composed building structure called those two World Trade Center buildings, Twin Towers? There were five thousand or ten thousand killed and, counting all those passengers in those airplanes, it's very likely that every last single one of them was a fag or dyke or a fag enabler, and that the minute he died, he split hell wide open, and the way to analyze the situation is that the Lord God Almighty, pursuant to His threatenings and warnings, killed him, looked him in the face, laughed and mocked at each one of them as He cast each one of them into Hell!

Show
All of those pictures in textbooks where it shows the ape developing into a man, those are not true. Those are made up. There is no development that has been found. And if evolution was a fact, then we would somehow still be developing…When something is something, it stays that.

Show
I often get letters, quite frequently, from people who say how they like the programmes a lot, but I never give credit to the almighty power that created nature. To which I reply and say, "Well, it's funny that the people, when they say that this is evidence of the Almighty, always quote beautiful things. They always quote orchids and hummingbirds and butterflies and roses." But I always have to think too of a little boy sitting on the banks of a river in west Africa who has a worm boring through his eyeball, turning him blind before he's five years old. And I reply and say, "Well, presumably the God you speak about created the worm as well," and now, I find that baffling to credit a merciful God with that action. And therefore it seems to me safer to show things that I know to be truth, truthful and factual, and allow people to make up their own minds about the moralities of this thing, or indeed the theology of this thing.

Show
Thank God for the tsunami, and thank God that two thousand dead Swedes are fertilizing the ground over there [in Asia]. How many of these two thousand, do you suppose, were fags and dykes? This is how the Lord deals with His enemies. And the Lord has got some enemies. And Sweden heads the list. You filthy Swedes. You filthy Swedes!

Show

Did you spot all that non-judgemental Christian love and honesty? Me neither.


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Friday, 23 November 2012

Order From Chaos

One of the things which seems to baffle people is how order can come from a chaotic system without help. After all, if the system is truly chaotic, what could give it direction, assuming of course that order implies some sort of direction?

This confusion is often seized on by people who push religions for a living, to sell the idea that there must be some sort of directing intelligence doing it, with the implication that this directing intelligence must be the locally popular god in which ever culture they are marking their snake oil. This predominates in Creationism where it's the single most used argument by Creation 'scientists' to keep their normally scientifically illiterate market buying their books and voting they way they are told to vote. But it can also be found in other areas of science where professional religious apologists tend to go to find confusion, ignorance and misinformation to exploit.

I'll take a few simple scientific principle to illustrate how order can and does emerge spontaneously from chaos in ways which we often take for granted.

1. The Gas Laws

Most people will have heard of the Gas Laws. These Laws are regarded as some of the most basic fundamental laws of physics, explaining how volume, pressure and temperature of gasses are related.

There are two such laws complimenting each other: Boyle's Law and Charles's Law. They explain much of how internal combustion engines and steam engines work. Don't worry about the technical stuff too much. That's not the point of this blog. There isn't going to be an exam at the end of it.

Boyle's Law.

Boyle's law (sometimes referred to as the Boyle–Mariotte law) states that the absolute pressure and volume of a given mass of confined gas are inversely proportional, if the temperature remains unchanged within a closed system.[1][2] Thus, it states that the product of pressure and volume is a constant for a given mass of confined gas as long as the temperature is constant. The law was named after chemist and physicist Robert Boyle, who published the original law in 1662.[3]

Charles's Law

Charles' law (also known as the law of volumes) is an experimental gas law which describes how gases tend to expand when heated.

A modern statement of Charles' law is:
At constant pressure, the volume of a given mass of an ideal gas increases or decreases by the same factor as its temperature on the absolute temperature scale (i.e. the gas expands as the temperature increases).[1]

It was first published by French natural philosopher Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac in 1802,[2] although he credited the discovery to unpublished work from the 1780s by Jacques Charles.

To understand what's going on with these gasses in closed systems, we need to understand what pressure is. Pressure is the total force exerted by all the molecules of the gas as they hit to wall of the container. Some of their kinetic energy, depending on their velocity and the angle at which they strike the wall, is transferred to the walls of the container which would be pushed outwards if it could move - which is why balloons get bigger as you put more gas into them.

The total force exerted on the wall of the container will depend on the average energy transferred multiplied by the total number of molecules striking the walls of the container per unit of area at any one moment, which is proportional to the density of the molecules in the container. If we reduce the volume of the same mass of gas (by making the container smaller) we increase the density of the molecules in that mass so there are more of them to strike the walls of the container per unit area of wall. (Boyle's Law)

But, molecules of gas are moving randomly and chaotically within the body of the mass of gas in the container. When they strike the wall of the container, nothing is directing them to; they simply happen to be randomly moving in a trajectory which hits the wall (of course, if they didn't strike other gas molecules on the way, they would eventually strike a wall because they are in an enclosed system. As it is, they are zig-zagging about chaotically because they are also striking one another. The probability of any one molecule striking a wall at any one moment is randomly distributed somewhere between certainty and impossibility.

So, individual molecules are randomly striking the walls of the container in a truly random and chaotic, therefore unpredictable, manner.

How much energy they have will depend on the temperature, which is why pressure rises when the temperature rises (Charles's Law). However, not all molecules will have the same energy; the distribution of energy amongst all the molecules will fit a bell curve, with some having more than the average and some less. When the temperature increases, it's the shape of the bell curve which changes as the average energy increases. For any individual molecule, however, it's energy will still be random. The angle at which they strike the wall is also randomly distributed between 0 and 180 degrees to the surface of the wall.

So, the amount of energy individual molecules transfer to the walls of the container which they randomly and chaotically strike is also random and chaotic, therefore also unpredictable.

And yet, from a chaotic system, we get emergent order, which is so dependable we even call it a Law - which in science means we can be certain it will happen under normal circumstances such as the universe continuing to exist.

There is no magic or direction, nor intelligence required to produce the Gas Laws, merely the chaos of randomly moving gas molecules with randomly distributed kinetic energy. What we have there is an example of a 'law of mass action' where we can only predict what the average outcome will be from properties which fit bell curves, like the kinetic energy of gas molecules and their direction of travel.

So, the Gas Laws, upon which steam power and motor car engines depend, are emergent properties of chaos.

2. Clouds





The thing about clouds is that they look different depending on how far away from you they are.

Normally, when you look at them from the ground and they're up in the sky, they look like distinct things. We talk about them as though they are distinct objects. They can even look like solid objects, at least solid enough for ancient superstitious folk to imagine gods and angels standing on them.

When we fly into them in a plane, we realise they have no real outline; no edge as such.

When they are at ground level, or we are up a mountain at cloud level, we realise they are just microscopic droplets of water suspended in the air. Inside this fog we don't see the cloud as a thing at all; it's just different air which is difficult to see through.

And yet, in these pictures on the right we can see shape and form; we can see structures, even patterns. Surely there is order in clouds, isn't there? And this is not the usual humans looking for patterns and seeing faces and castles in the air, Jesus in toast and virgins in dropped ice-cream, sort of structure. (It's a pity for Muslims that there aren't more pictures of Mohammed otherwise they could see him in their toast as well.)

And yet the individual droplets of water or particles of ice which make up clouds are randomly distributed and randomly moving about and were formed from a chaotic weather system.

So clouds have no definable outline and are composed of chaotically moving particles formed in a chaotic system. And yet they look like discrete objects and have structure.

Again, structure is an emergent property from chaos. Not quite such predictable order as the Gas laws, but we can be fairly sure that, given certain meteorological conditions like wind direction and speed, temperature gradients as we go up through the atmosphere and humidity, we will get particular 'types' of clouds (in other words, clouds with different structures). We can also make a fairly good guess about what the weather is going to be from this emergent order from chaos, which took no direction and no intelligence to emerge.

There are other structures which flow from the emergent nature of clouds from chaos, of course.

Under the right conditions, the microscopic water droplets start to join together into larger droplets which become too large to stay in suspension in the air, and fall out as rain. They may also form the incredibly ordered snow flakes, the precise form of which is also random and emergent from chaos.

The next section deals with this.

3. Flowing Water

Falling rain eventually reaches the ground where it erodes the land into river valleys, chalk hills into caves and gorges, wears jagged rocky mountains into rounded hills and rough stones into smooth pebbles. Flowing rivers carrying eroded silt form sand bars, oxbow lakes, river beds and mud flats. All emergent structures out of chaos.

In Southern England we have a wonderful structure called Chesil Beach (from Old English ceosel or cisel, meaning "gravel" or "shingle") made entirely from pebbles. This entire 18 mile long structure was an emergent structure formed by the chaotic action of water molecules. As you go from one end to the other, the pebbles change in size. They have been graded into order by the same chaotic actions of water molecules.
Rivers, seas and oceans are composed of countless billions of water molecules all moving chaotically. It would be impossible to take any single water molecule and accurately predict its movements even for a few seconds because that depends on what the water molecules around it are doing, whilst what they do in turn depends on other water molecules. And yet, give something directional like gravity, order will begin to emerge and structures will appear in the water, some brief and transitory, some longer-lasting, but all being unpredictable. An order of sorts emerges from chaos.

Look at this video of a gentle stream. It's worth watching anyway. You will see little eddies forming, ripples on the surface of the water, peaks and waves and splashes. All of these are emergent structures, emerging from the chaos of mass action responding to gravity alone.

No intelligence and no direction save the natural force of gravity is required.

All of these examples of order emerging from chaos, and especially the latter of order emerging under a natural force giving a direction such as gravity, illustrate a basic principle of evolutionary biology.

They illustrate how order can emerge from randomly imperfect replication of genes under the directing influence of natural selection to give structures and forms best able to replicate genes in that selecting environment. Evolution by natural selection is an iterative process, complete with directing feedback system which requires no more direction nor intelligence than does water flowing down a stream.

And it is as mindless and majestic as flood water washing away bridges, cars, buildings and people.

Further reading:

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Stacking Up The Odds

How come Evolution can create such hugely unlikely things that it's hard for people who don't understand, wilfully or otherwise, how Darwinian Evolution works without being directed?

To understand this you need to understand a few simple ideas.

  1. How many ancestors have you got?
  2. This should be quite simple to calculate. You have two parents, four grand parents, eight great grand parents, etc, etc. So, for every generation you go back, the number of ancestors doubles. You can imagine this as a fan shape going back in time, starting with you, each line splitting in two at every generation. Suppose we want to know how many ancestors we had a thousand years ago, we need to know how many generations there have been in a thousand years - approximately forty, assuming the mean age of parents at child birth is about twenty-five years. Then, we start with two and double it, forty times. In other words, 240 (2 raised to the power of 40), which is 1,099,511,627,776 (a little over one trillion) ancestors who lived in the year 1000 CE.1

    To calculate how many ancestors you had who lived at the time of Pontius Pilate, (80 generations ago) it's 280, or 1,208,925,819,614,629,174,706,176 or a little over one quadrillion ancestors who live in the year 1 CE.

    But hold on! That's more humans than have ever lived! How can that be?

    Well, try researching your family tree. You can be sure that, before you get back very far, you will find a marriage between cousins, second cousins, third cousins and so on. My father's parents were cousins, as were his grandmother's parents. Before the invention of the bicycle, most marriages were between couples who lived within four miles of one another. There is no reason this would have been different in earlier times, so the chances of two people being first, second, third, fourth, cousins, etcetera would have been very high. Each of these marriages merges two of your expanding fan of lines into one. The further you go back the more certain it becomes that a couple were related in some way, so you're 'expanding' fan of ancestors tends to reach a maximum number of lines, and, if only you could go back far enough, it could never be larger than the total number of people alive.

    And this means you have a very high probability of being related to any one person who was then alive.

    Think about the enormity of that for a moment. There is a point in history at which you were very probably related to anyone then alive, apart from people who were extremely isolated from the rest of humanity, if there were any such people at the time in question! Your gene-line connects you to every human who ever lived before a certain point in history, so you can inherit any mutation that arose prior to that time.

    Geneticists have calculated that the earliest point in history when we all had at least one individual in common in our ancestry was a mere 350,000 years ago. Before that period the total human population of the world was probably numbered in the tens or hundreds of thousands, all concentrated in the plains of East Africa and the Great Rift Valley. It's not hard to see how we are almost certainly related to all of them. It has also been estimated that the number of humans who came out of Africa, and from whom all non-Africans are descended, was a mere few thousand.

    So, you have a good change of inheriting any of the genes anyone then carried. If there was exactly the same chance of any of them being passed on, there would be an equal chance that you would inherit any one gene.

    But, natural selection means there isn't an equal chance. Natural selection means that any gene which gives an advantage in terms of breeding success will increase it's chances of being inherited at every generation, while any gene which gives a disadvantage, or even just less of an advantage than another, will reduce it's chances of being inherited at every generation. In this sense, alleles of the same gene compete for success in the gene pool. One allele's success is another allele's failure.

  3. Mutation Probability
  4. Every time DNA is replicated there are mechanisms in place to correct the occasional error. However, even these fail sometimes. You only need to look at any group of individuals to see that we all differ from one another within limits. This is due (at least in part) to differences in our genes which arose in the past due to imperfect replication.

    So, what are the chances of a particular mutation happening at all and being passed on? The real answer is, it all depends on the particular gene and how it's arranged in the DNA. I won't go into the technical details here save to say that, if it's a seriously harmful mutation, it's unlikely to produce a new individual. Even if the egg or sperm carrying it are viable, the resulting embryo might well not be. Even if it passes that test, the resulting baby might not survive to produce its own offspring, so the harmful mutation won't be passed on.

    So we can be fairly sure that most mutations which get to compete for a place in the gene pool are not going to be seriously harmful. In other words, generally speaking only the potentially successful ones will actually be successful.

    So, let's assume a really low probability of a beneficial mutation happening - something in the order of one in a million. This means, on average, one person in every million will carry this mutation because it arose in the egg or sperm they developed from.

    We are talking about a beneficial mutation here, remember. That is, beneficial in terms of the number of descendants the carrier can produce, compared to the number he or she could produce with the non-mutant form of the gene. So, by the next generation, that average of one in a million will have been increased by natural selection. It doesn't matter whether the natural selection selected for the mutation or against the original allele; the result is the same. And this is so for every new generation.

    This means that the original one in a million chance of any individual carrying the mutation increases with every generation, even if no more mutations spontaneously arise. If there is a very clear advantage, the increase in the gene pool can be very rapid. In a small population, especially with strong selection pressure this can occur extremely quickly. See a few examples of this in Rapid Human Evolution, More Rapid Human Evolution and Rapid Evolution Makes Creationists Crabby.

    So, what we are seeing here is natural selection accumulating improbabilities and turning them into probabilities, even certainties, given time, as evolving organisms are pushed up an improbability gradient towards fitness peaks in their environment.

    This is the principle I tried to illustrate in my blog Evolution for Creationists Who Can Recite Jack And Jill.

    The last component of this principle is the fact that exactly the same process can be happening to other mutations at the same time. Each mutation is, of course, a part of all the other genes' selective environment. It may be that, in some individuals, a mutation is more beneficial than in others because they also have another mutation. It could also be less beneficial, of course. However, where two or more, maybe several, mutations occurring together give a clear advantage, the individuals carrying them together will produce more descendants, so the chances of these mutations occurring together in an individual also increases with every new generation.

    Mutually beneficial combinations of genes are also pushed up the improbability gradient by the simple process of differential breeding success, or natural selection, as it's known.

    This simple principle gives the lie to Creationist and Intelligent Design frauds who bamboozle their credulous and ignorant audiences by multiplying improbabilities together to produce a vanishingly small probability and then claim the maths just doesn't support evolution by natural selection. Of course, one mutation does not depend on another mutation happening first, so there is no basis for multiplying these probabilities together. It also ignores the power of natural selection to push an organism up the improbability gradient until it becomes highly probable, if not certain.

    And remember, you are connected through your gene line to everyone in whom these mutations could have arisen before some 350,000 years ago. Any beneficial mutation any time before then has a very high probability of being in you. You will also carry some which are on their way up the gradient and which, should the human species survive long enough, will have a high probability of being in everyone in another few hundred thousand years.

  5. Deep Time
  6. But all that is slow and takes a very long time! How come there is so much diversity to be seen on earth when all this evolution happens so slowly? The answer is because there has been so much time.

    I have used this quote from Richard Dawkins before but I don't know of a better metaphor for explaining the idea of how long life on earth has been evolving:
    "Fling your arms wide in an expansive gesture to span all of evolution from its origins at your left fingertip to today at your right fingertip. All the way across your midline to well past your right shoulder, life consisted of nothing but bacteria. Multi-celled invertebrate life flowers somewhere around your right elbow. The dinosaurs originate in the middle of your right palm, and go extinct around your last finger joint. The whole story of Homo sapiens and our predecessor Homo erectus is contained in the thickness of one nail-clipping.

    As for recorded history; as for the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Jewish patriarchs, the dynasties of the Pharaohs, the legions of Rome, the Christian Fathers, the Laws of the Medes and Persians which never change; as for Troy and the Greeks, Helen and Achilles and Agamemnon dead; as for Napoleon and Hitler, The Beatles and Bill Clinton, they and everyone that knew them are blown away in the dust from one light stroke of a nail file."

    Richard Dawkins, Unweaving The Rainbow
    We can see that evolution has had vast amounts of time. Life on earth is at a relatively mature stage of development. The major kingdoms and phyla were established by about 500 million years ago on basic body plans established a hundred million years or so earlier in the Cambrian era. About three hundred and fifty million years ago the major classes had been established apart from birds which evolved from the therapod dinosaurs, the rest of the dinosaurs having gone extinct, and mammals which evolved from earlier mammal-like reptiles starting some one hundred and seventy million years ago.

    But is that still enough time? About seven to ten million years ago, Hominids split off from Gorilla and Pan (chimpanzees). In that time we have changed just about 1.5% of our genes; 98.5% of them we still share with our closest ape cousins, and they with one another. We have just 24,000 genes in the human genome, so, assuming the same holds true for bonobos (Pan paniscus), and assuming they are responsible for half the difference between us, we have each only needed to change 180 of our genes to get as far as we now are from one another. Think how many generations have lived in those seven to ten million years. At present-day rates of human generation, that's somewhere between 280,000 and 400,000 generations in 'just' that short time (geologically speaking). Of course that's enough time to change a mere 180 genes.
Almost unbelievably, and yet unarguably, you are related to every one of those who lived through that process. Traces of their genetic evolution are to be found in you, and just about every winner in the competition for space in the hominid gene pool, up to about 350,000 years ago, can be found in almost every cell in your body. So there we can see that, with a little appreciation of a few basic principles, how easy evolution can be to understand, and how easy it is to understand how seemingly highly unlikely things can evolve against all probability because of the power of natural selection to concentrate and accumulate the improbable and drive a species up an improbability gradient until it becomes not only probable but highly likely, even certain. This was the ability to imagine this simple idea, and to appreciate it's power to explain, that made Charles Darwin one of the greatest scientific minds that have ever lived.

Of course, Creationists will tell you this is all nonsense, because they prefer you to believe it was all done by magic, because people who lived in the Bronze Age thought it must have been, and that makes it easier for them to sell you books without either of you needing to learn anything very much.

Further reading:
  1. Climbing Mount Improbable, Richard Dawkins.
  2. Wikipedia - Evolution.
  3. Wikipedia - Phylogenetic tree.
  4. Wikipedia - Timeline of human evolution.
  5. The Tree of Life.
  6. Evolution - Making A Monkey Of Creationists.
  7. Unintelligent Design And Vitamin C Deficiency.
  8. Why Species?
Footnotes:
  1. Which makes one wonder how on earth the Joseph of the Bible knew he needed to go to Bethlehem for the census when one of his ancestors, David, allegedly lived there 1000 years earlier. Why David and not one of the other half a trillion male ancestors? And how did the Roman authorities know he had gone to the right town when practically any town or village in the area would have been where at least one of Joseph's ancestors had lived, including Nazareth, from where they allegedly travelled?


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Tuesday, 20 November 2012

No Women Allowed!

The great thing about the Bible is, with only a little imagination and creative reinterpretation, it can mean just whatever you want it to mean. Whatever excuse you're looking for, for whatever you need to excuse, can usually be found with only a few minutes random search.

Take for example today's news that the General Synod of the Church of England has voted against allowing female bishops.

Firstly, I can't think of any reason at all why any self-respecting woman would want to be a leader of a church which doesn't want her. For that matter, I can't think of any honest reason why anyone would want to be a member of any organisation which specialises in pushing superstition onto gullible and vulnerable people and children, but that's neither here nor there.

For some reason some women do want to be Anglican bishops but those who have already made it through the stained-glass trapdoor have decided to slam it shut and pile tea-chests on top of it to keep it all for themselves, in their kind, caring, compassionate, Christian way.

Where did they turn to to find the excuse they needed? Why, the bigot's handbook, aka, the Holy Bible, of course! Where else?

And in this case, there wasn't even much creative re-interpretation needed. The medieval, and almost certainly sexually confused, misogynists who wrote it never even tried to hide their contempt for women, nor did the founders of the Christian church who seized on their bigotry and elaborated on it with enthusiasm.

No doubt they were inspired by:

Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.

Genesis 3:16



Man that is born of a woman is of few days and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not. And doth thou open thine eyes upon such an one, and bringest me into judgment with thee? Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.

Job 14:1-4



I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.

In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.

But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
1 Timothy 2:8-18



Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

Ephesians 5:22–23



Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord.

Colossians 3:18



For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man.

1 Corinthians 11:7-9



Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church.

1 Corinthians 24:34-35



Woman is a temple built over a sewer, the gateway to the devil. Woman, you are the devil’s doorway. You should always go in mourning and in rags.

Do you not know that you are Eve? The judgment of God upon this sex lives on in this age; therefore, necessarily the guilt should live on also. You are the gateway of the devil; you are the one who unseals the curse of that tree, and you are the first one to turn your back on the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the devil was not capable of corrupting; you easily destroyed the image of God, Adam. Because of what you deserve, that is, death, even the Son of God had to die.

Tertullian, the father of Latin Christianity and founder of Western theology.



Any woman who acts in such a way that she cannot give birth to as many children as she is capable of, makes herself guilty of that many murders.

St Augustine of Hippo, considered to be one of the greatest Christian thinkers of all time.



Women should remain at home, sit still, keep house and bear and bring up children… If a woman grows weary and at least dies from child bearing, it matters not. Let her die from bearing - she is there to do it.

Women have narrow shoulders and wide hips, therefore they ought to be domestic; their very physique is a sign from their Creator that he intended them to limit their activity to the home.




For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you.

1 Peter 1:24-25

Of course, it might not be just misogyny, or the fear that, if they had to work closely with a woman, they might not be able to keep their hands to themselves. It might be genuine repulsion similar to that felt by the person who wrote Revelations:

These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins. These are they which follow the Lamb whithersoever he goeth. These were redeemed from among men, being the firstfruits unto God and to the Lamb.

Revelation 14:4

I mean, who in their right mind would want to be defiled by a filthy woman? Certainly not anyone who agreed with John Calvin's view of what comes from a female's body:

We take nothing from the womb but pure filth [meras sordes]. The seething spring of sin is so deep and abundant that vices are always bubbling up form it to bespatter and stain what is otherwise pure.... We should remember that we are not guilty of one offense only but are buried in innumerable impurities.... all human works, if judged according to their own worth, are nothing but filth and defilement.... they are always spattered and befouled with many stains.... it is certain that there is no one who is not covered with infinite filth.

In John Calvin: A Sixteenth-Century Portrait, 1989, William J. Bouwsma, Oxford University Press, USA, p. 36.

So, why on earth would we expect people who admire these works and believe them to have been divinely inspired to regard women as their equal and entitled to equal opportunities?

The whole idea of women priest is so un-Christian.

Remember, this is the church which thought it would be a spiffing idea to have an Old Etonian nob with hardly any experience but jolly good breeding and loads-a-dosh, to lead it, just like in the good old days before all this liberal nonsense about democracy, equality and human rights.





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Saturday, 17 November 2012

The Power Of The Story

Once upon a time, in a continent not far away, there dwelt a puny ape who had learnt to walk upright so it could see further than other men without needing to stand on the shoulders of giants.

This little ape wanted to find dinner and wanted even more not to be dinner. But, the trees it once lived in had mostly gone away because the rains which used to come very often now came less frequently, so it could no longer shin up the nearest one to avoid the lions or swing from branch to branch to escape the leopards. Instead, it had to learn new skills if it was going to leave any descendants - and if it hadn't, how would we know about it now?

One of the things it acquired was the ability to recognise patterns. How useful it was to recognise the tracks of the animals they were hunting, and to recognise the tracks of the animals who were hunting them. They were probably the only animal which could look at animal tracks and read the information in them - what made them, which direction they were going in, how long ago they were made, and how many there were. This ability may have created the environment in which a large brain could evolve because the puny little ape could now make good use of a large brain and could catch the high protein dinner needed to grow it.

With pattern recognition came the ability to recognise sequences of events and to arrange them into a story. They could tell the story of those two leopards that came down to the water hole two hours ago, and then went up near to trees. They could also tell the story of how that gazelle was walking with a limp and would be easy to catch, and they could tell the story of how they would be welcomed home if they caught it and 'invited' it home to dinner...

Maybe it'll earn the opportunity to pass those pattern-recognising genes on to more offspring - though they wouldn't have known about the genes of course. They would have known the value of a good meal and their mate would have known the value of a good provider of good meals when it comes to rearing the children, and how to reward and keep a good thing when she saw it.

And so they evolved the ability to tell stories because those with that ability contributed more genes to the gene pool. They interpreted the world they saw in terms of stories. They worked out what would happen next and they worked out what probably happened before. The leopards came from that rocky outcrop. Best not go there. The world of these creatures became a world of a past and a future with the future caused by the past and they lived in the story they wove from the patterns they saw all around them.

And we've inherited these pattern-recognition genes because they helped our East African ancestors to pass on their genes and we are the descendants of those who left most descendants. It has even been said that, rather than Homo sapiens (thinking Man) we should be called Homo narans (story-telling Man) because so much of our thinking is actually story-telling.

We develop this ability very early in life. Show a three year-old a series of pictures and ask then what is happening, and they will joint them together with a story. They will even make up a story to explain what's happening in a single picture and they will tell you what will happen next. They do this because they assume there is a story. We see stories in everything.

We looked at tall mountains and said, "Some day a man will climb to the top." and so we climbed to the top of tall mountains and fulfilled our prophesy.

We looked towards the North and South Poles and said, "Some day someone will go there!", and so we went there and fulfilled our prophesy.

We looked up at the moon... and, because we couldn't allow it to be a Russian, it had to be an American. And it was so, and the prophesy was fulfilled because the prophesy said it would be.

So Homo narans has evolved another ability - the ability to create self-fulfilling prophesies.



Once upon a time, when we were in the childhood of our species, at a time before we had discovered iron or invented the wheel, a small tribe of Homo narans wanted to justify driving some people off their land and taking it for themselves, so they invented a story of how it had been given to them by a spirit in the sky who had chosen them for special treatment. Later on a scribe wrote it down, then someone included it in a book of tales and origins myths.

After many years they in turn were driven off their land by invaders but they remembered the tale of being the 'chosen' people and being given the land by a magic spirit in the sky and joined it to another story that one day a magic king would come to 'save' them when they get their god-given land back, build a temple, cast some magic spells and sacrifice a bull. Then they can have the whole world all for themselves, just like their magic spirit in the sky promised.

Another version of this story said the magic king had already appeared but had now gone away to wait for the chosen people to build the temple, when he would come back and kill them and everyone else who doesn't believe he's already been once, so some other specially chosen people will have the world all for themselves instead.

Two thousand years later, some people who believe they are the special people (how could it be anyone else?) are still working to ensure this prophesy from the infancy of mankind is self-fulfilled. One group is ensuring that the most powerful nation the world has ever known is on side and helping to fulfil the prophesy by supporting Israel as it wages genocidal war against the people who have lived in Palestine for thousands of years, on the land the story says a magic spirit gave to its chosen people.

The Triumph of Death, Pieter Bruegel The Elder
They are doing this in the hope that the legendary magic king will come back and kill everyone so they can have the world all for themselves. It's that thing we call Armageddon, in which we all get to die!

The worry is, that many people think this would be a good thing and have a lot of influence on people who could do it tomorrow if they wished.

We do not have to fulfil this insane prophesy, people!

It's a story we made up when we were too ignorant to know any better! We can change the story.

We have to change the story, or the very ability that allowed us to conquer the world, to climb the highest mountains and go to the moon could be the very thing which ensures our extinction.

Imagine!

"We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better." - J. K. Rowling


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Friday, 16 November 2012

Is Religion A Mind Virus?

Look at the lovely viruses!
Ever since Richard Dawkins introduced the idea of memes in The Selfish Gene people have speculated on the nature of religion when seen as a memeplex. There are two ways to view the religion memeplex:

  1. Is it a meme which has evolved within the human cultural memome (the memetic equivalent of the genetic genome) because it conveys benefits to the carrier and is thus differentially selected for in the evolution of cultures
  2. It like a virus in that it conveys no benefit to the carrier and may even be harmful but it subverts the replication mechanism and converts the host to a machine for producing viruses.
Of course, these two views are not necessarily mutually exclusive since there are examples of viruses eventually being incorporated into the normal genome because they have evolved from being parasites to being symbionts. One such example may be a retrovirus which suppressed immune responses and which is now essential in mammals to prevent the developing foetus from being rejected. The presence of this virus in the genome may have allowed placental mammals to evolve.

Religion. It's given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.

Jon Stewart
The standard counter to the Atheist argument that religions are harmful is to ask why, if cultures evolve and religions are harmful, they haven't gone extinct?

The purpose of this blog isn't to list the many ways in which religions are harmful so I will only deal with that briefly in a moment. The answer the the question however, is that religions maybe haven't gone extinct because they are memetic viruses.

The Harm Religions Do To Society.

No one can take an objective view of the world today and conclude that religions are not responsible for almost all conflicts. With the cold war over (and how much of that was at least in part due to religion?) religion is now the major cause of tension both between and within countries.

We have just witnessed a presidential election if the USA in which a lying, tax-evading, misogynist with some truly astonishing, even, when viewed from most of the rest of the world, dangerously deranged, religious beliefs, was only narrowly beaten in the popular vote because he was perceived by many as more suitable because he was more religious than the other candidate.

In the USA, in the twenty-first century, anyone seeking elected office has to be overtly religious. The religious right have created a political climate whereby anyone with a science education and displaying critical thinking skills, which includes the cleverest and best educated Americans, is effectively disbarred from holding elected office in the USA. This is despite the overwhelming evidence that those professing the more fundamentalist religious views are those most likely to be found in prison whilst those professing Atheist or Humanist views or identifying as having no religion, are highly under-represented in the prison population compared to their representation in the national demographic profile. On a world scale, countries such as Sweden where Atheists are in the majority tend to be the most peaceful, stable and law-abiding.

I have previously blogged about a relative few of the very many religion-inspired massacres and genocides in Religion Kills. I have also shown the effects religious cults can have on individuals in Top Five Christian Cults and More Loopy Religious Cults.

In Why Creationists Lie To Us I explained how fundamentalist Christians are attempting to subvert the US Constitution and establish an extreme Christian theocracy which would require the death penalty for adulterers, homosexuals, witches, incorrigible children, and those who spread “false” religions. It's not too hard to work out what an extreme fundamentalist Christian would deem to be a false religion nor how this death penalty would be carried out by people in control of a nuclear arsenal.

A Prayer

O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells;

help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead;

help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain;

help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire;

help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief;

help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sport of the sun-flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it --

for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

We ask of one who is the Spirit of love and who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset, and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts.

Grant our prayer, O Lord, and Thine shall be the praise and honor and glory now and ever,

Amen.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) - War Prayer
As an aside, it's interesting to note how the Christians of the Discovery Institute, which was established with this objective, make no pretence that Christianity has nothing to do with all those brutal Mosaic Laws from the Old Testament and that Jesus somehow changed all that. Their laws would be straight out of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, reflecting Bronze Age tribal values of desert-dwelling nomads.

Does anyone in their right mind, not imbued with primitive Christianity, think this would be a good thing, highly beneficial to human culture?

The last brief point to make here is that countries where two or more religions are represented by significant sections of the population tend to be unstable with a high level of social disorder and conflict. Religions very rarely peacefully co-exist, least of all the exclusive Abrahamic religions.

Religion As A Virus.

Daniel Dennett has suggested that religions can exercise behavioural control much like some viruses, and other parasites can, and provide:
...deleterious replicators that we would be better off without… but that are hard to eliminate, since they have evolved so well to counter our defenses and enhance their own propagation.”

Daniel C. Dennett, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (New York: Viking, 2006), p. 84.
(See It Could Never Happen To Us - Zombies Controlled By A Parasite.)

Psychologist Darryl W. Ray has identified five charcteristics viruses have in common with religions:

Viruses:
  1. Infect people.
  2. Create antibodies or defenses against other viruses.
  3. Take over certain mental and physical functions and hide within the individual in such a way that they are not detectable by the individual.
  4. Use specific methods for spreading the virus.
  5. Program the host to replicate the virus.

Religions:
  1. Infect people by childhood indoctrination and proselytizing.
  2. Creates defenses by justifying their rightness and the wrongness of other religions.
  3. Take over mental functions by establishing rules such as abstinence and dietary restrictions and inducing guilt.
  4. Have “vectors” such as priests and ministers that spread the virus.
  5. Program their hosts with rituals such as baptism, first communion, Bar Mitzvah, confession, confirmation, and Bible reading and immunize them against other viruses by preventing them from learning objectively about other religions.
Darrel W. Ray, The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture (Bonner Springs, KS: IPC Press, 2009), p. 23.

The evolutionist, Craig A. James, has identified a series of eight mutations the monotheist religion meme would have gone through as it evolved out of primitive polytheism:
  1. Specialist god to general-purpose god.
  2. Polytheism to monotheism.
  3. Tolerance of other gods to intolerance.
  4. Local gods to global gods.
  5. Physical (“ same stuff as us”) to abstract.
  6. Pragmatic/natural ethics to god-given rules.
  7. Unlikable to kind.
  8. Sexual to asexual.
In primitive animism, each spirit has a very specific ecological niche — the bear spirit does bear stuff, and the cloud spirit does weather stuff, and the two don't compete for survival. They “live” in separate ecological niches. But… as time passed, the multitude of spirits narrowed down to fewer gods, and then to just a few gods. At the same time, these gods became more general, and therein lies the problem: At some point, their “ecological niches” started to overlap, and they started competing with one another for attention. Just as in nature, if two gods serve the same purpose, it's unlikely that both will survive.”

Craig A. James, Op.Cit. p. 25.
How well that explains so much history, and how well it explains the major social and international tensions in today's world.

So we can see how evolution provided an explanation not only for the diversity of life on earth but how myths and religions developed within our cultures, and how closely religions resemble a memetic analog of genetic viruses.

However, there is one important difference between the way we inherit our genes and how we inherit our memes, including religion. We inherit our genes by Darwinian Evolution whereby we inherit characteristic over which we have no control because our parents had no control over which they passed on to us. By contrast, memes are inherited by Lamarckian Evolution. We can change them after birth and we can choose which to pass on to our children. Unlike our genes which (notwithstanding genetic engineering) we cannot change, we can change our memes.

My parents chose to baptise me as a Christian before I was old enough to have any say in the matter. From my mother I inherited a love of nature, of reading and learning. At the age of nine I dispensed with the religion meme I had inherited and stopped believing in gods. I and my atheist partner chose not to baptize our three children and instead to pass on the memes for critical thinking, rational analysis and a love of truth, learning, nature and science, and to allow them to make up their own minds about religion. None of them are religious and all of them have passed on the memes they inherited from us to their children.

We can chose to disinfect ourselves of the religion parasite and we can choose not to pass it on to the next generation. It will not be easy because of the time religion has had to evolve it's defence and mind control mechanisms, and the brutality it can evoke in it's hosts when it's under threat, as witnessed by the brutally psychopathic policies of the Taliban and the US Discovery Institute, but it can be done.

It must be done if humans, and life on earth in general, are to have much of a future.





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Why Creationists Lie To Us

Having written a number of blogs on how creationists lie to us, it only seems fair to take a look at why they do it.

First, a little background:

Creationism as a political movement is largely a late nineteenth / early twentieth century American invention; it's often forgotten that Darwinian Evolution, when it was first presented as a scientific theory, did not cause a major outcry in mainstream Christianity, at least in England. Most educated people had come to accept that the universe was a changing place and was not created as is a few thousand years ago; that the earth had a long geological history, though they estimated this in tens of thousands, perhaps millions, rather than billions of years. Evolution was just an extension of this principle of change and development into the realm of biology. Most people didn't seem to understand it well enough to realise how thoroughly it undermined the notion of divine creation. In fact, mainstream Christianity had become more deist than theist.

Ironically, in America, which was founded by liberal progressive deists like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison and Thomas Paine and where the constitution they introduced specifically prohibited an 'established' church and guaranteed freedom of conscience, the influence of itinerant fundamentalist preachers had produced a land of primitive fundamentalists with no central religious authority.

What fundamentalist Americans reacted to most strongly was the idea that they could be cousins to apes because it was this, rather than the method of creation, which denied the special nature of humanity as described in the Bible. Some argued that, since Jesus had come to earth in the form of a human, evolution implied Jesus was merely an ape.

Also ironically, it was these very primitive fundamentalists who understood the incompatibility between Darwinian Evolution and religious ideas of creation. It wasn't that they didn't understand Darwinian Evolution; it was that they understood it all too well.

So, despite the constitutional prohibition on governmental endorsement of religion, several US states had enacted laws forbidding the teaching of 'Darwinism' in public schools. Instead, schools were required to teach that the Bible account of creation was a scientific account of how life arose.

Despite their victory in the 1925 Dayton, Tennessee Scopes 'monkey trial', Creationism was considered to have lost the scientific and moral argument. Never-the-less, several states had similar statutes on their books until overturned by the Supreme Court in 1968.

Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith.

Adolph Hitler, 26 April 1933.
Speech to mark the concordat between
the Third Reich and the Vatican.
This defeat spurred Creationists to greater efforts. Now, instead of banning the teaching of established science and requiring the teaching of religious dogma instead, they began a drive to have 'creation science' taught as a valid alternative scientific theory. A law requiring this in Arkansas was struck down by a federal court in 1982, the judge, William R. Overton, ruling that 'creation science' is not science. The Supreme Court struck down a similar law in Louisiana in 1987.

So, the Creationist movement retrenched and came up with yet another plan.

Led by biochemist posing as a microbiologist, Michael Behe, and theologian posing as a biologist William Dembski, they came up with a new term - 'Intelligent Design'. The plan was not to directly claim the Christian God was the 'intelligent designer', although both Dembski and Behe are devout Catholics, but merely allow people to assume it must have been, in a culture which only recognises one god as being capable of creating and designing living things. This allowed them to claim the idea didn't support a particular religious view whilst giving unswerving support to biblical creationism disguised as science.

Supported by rich backers, their views and books were given wide publicity and mass media exposure. Creationists soon began to clamour for the teaching of 'the scientific theory of Intelligent Design' as a valid scientific alternative, presenting it as an unresolved scientific controversy.

The fraudulent nature of their claim was exposed in the 'Dover Trial' in Dover, Pennsylvania. Dover school board had required teachers to read a statement asserting that Intelligent Design provides an alternative explanation for the origins of life. In the ensuing court case, Behe, who has proved something of a disaster area for Creationism in his court appearances, was forced to admit:
There are no peer-reviewed articles by anyone advocating for intelligent design supported by pertinent experiments or calculations which provide detailed rigorous accounts of how intelligent design of any biological system occurred.

Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District trial transcript: Day 12 (October 1, 2005), AM session, part 1,
http:// www.talkorigins.org/faqs/dover/day12am.html (accessed November 16, 2012).
Judge John E. Jones III (a conservative George W. Bush appointee) ruled that the Dover school board had violated the Establishment Clause, that ID was not science and that some members of the school board had lied repeatedly to disguise the real purpose of the ID policy, being staunchly and proudly religious in public but denying it in court. The Dover school board was ordered to pay over $1,000,000 in costs.

Once again, fundamentalist Christians had been caught trying to subvert the US Constitution and being prepared to lie to do so.

But who was backing this campaign? Here is where the story starts to move from the surreal spectacle of a few flat-earther fundamentalist lunatics making themselves look stupid, to something much more sinister.

The organization behind the ID movement is the Seattle-based Discovery Institute. In a 2004 book, Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge Of Intelligent Design, Barbara Forrest and Paul Gross exposed the tactics, aims and objectives of this organization. This is how Victor J. Stenger summarises it:
[T]he institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture (now called the Center for Science and Culture) sought nothing less than a scientific and cultural revolution by overthrowing “scientific materialism.”1

The movement to renew science and culture was spearheaded by a retired criminal law professor, Phillip Johnson, who wrote a series of books denouncing evolution. Johnson recognized what many people still fail to grasp about the impact of Darwinian evolution on religion. As Johnson says in his book, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, evolution “doesn't mean God-guided, gradual creation. It means unguided, purposeless change. The Darwinian theory doesn't say that God created slowly. It says that naturalistic evolution is the creator, and so God had nothing to do with it.”2 That's exactly what I have been trying to say.

Johnson attributes to naturalism many of the evils of the world, from homosexuality to genocide.3 He proposed the “wedge strategy”4 adopted by the Discovery Institute, a five-year plan to drive a "wedge" into the trunk of scientific materialism and split it at its weakest points. The primary goals of the wedge were:
  • To defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural, and political legacies
  • To replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God.
The method was to promote intelligent design theory and see it become the "dominant perspective" in all fields of science until it permeates "our religious, cultural, moral, and political life."5

The startup funds for the Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture were provided by the estate of Howard F. Ahmanson, whose company, the parent of Home Savings of America, had over $47 billion in assets in 1997. Ahmanson and his wife were associated with the movement called Christian Reconstruction, which seeks nothing less than to replace American democracy with a fundamentalist theocracy. This organization, according to one source, would require the death penalty for adulterers, homosexuals, witches, incorrigible children, and those who spread "false" religions.6 [my emphasis]

References:
  1. Barbara Forrest and Paul R. Gross, Creationism's Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design (Oxford, UK; New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).
  2. Phillip E. Johnson, Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1997), p. 16.
  3. Phillip E. Johnson, Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law & Education (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995).
  4. Phillip E. Johnson, The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).
  5. “The Wedge Strategy,” Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, http://www.antievolution.org/features/wedge.html (accessed January 6, 2011). For more details, see Forrest and Gross, Creationism's Trojan Horse.
  6. Steve Benen, “From Genesis to Dominion: Fat-Cat Theocrat Funds Creationism Crusade,” Church & State (July/ August 2000). Online at http://www.texscience.org/files/discovery.htm (accessed March 4, 2011).
Stenger, Victor J. (2012-04-03). God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion (pp. 116-117).
Prometheus Books. Kindle Edition.
It's maybe worth repeating that last bit: The aim of the Creation Institute is to use the 'Wedge Strategy' to circumvent and subvert the American Constitution in order to establish a fundamentalist Christian theocracy which would require the death penalty for adulterers, homosexuals, witches, incorrigible children, and those who spread "false" religions!

In other words, a theocracy based on a penal code which would sit well in a radical Sharia court or a Taliban government. And these nutters would control a nuclear arsenal sufficient to destroy life on this planet several times over.

That, is why Creationists are lying to us.


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